Monday, August 23

Wet and secure in Mumbai

Our first stop in India was Mumbai. We arrived in dead of night, landing soon after 2.30am. Even at this hour the airport was bustling with passengers and groups of loitering overall-clad labourers. Over the year I’ve got use to seeing people everywhere in India no matter where you are and no matter what the time of day. With a population of 1.14 billion, you inevitably see a lot of people in India.

Our route to the hotel took us over the new Bandra–Worli Sea Link, a 5.6 kilometre highway that runs literally along the Indian Ocean coastline one hundred metres offshore. The route was still under construction the last time I visited Mumbai in 2008. It was desperately needed as Mumbai is built on a long, congested peninsular, resulting in time-sapping traffic snarls throughout the city. Since opening the link has reduced travel time between Bandra and Worli from 45 minutes to 7 minutes. At 3am in the morning we had the entire structure to ourselves.

As we approached our hotel, another significant change since my last visit became apparent. My company’s local office had booked us into the Trident Hotel in picturesque Nariman Point. This was one of two hotels attacked by terrorists in November 2008. Gunmen stormed the hotel on the evening of November 26 and killed 32 guests and staff, before armed forces were able to end the resulting siege three days later.

Prior to this attack you could drive up to the hotel’s main entrance without restriction. Today, the driveway is blocked by a grilled fence and gates. Security guards stop every vehicle, check its underside with mirrors and examine both the engine housing and the trunk before letting it pass. All guests must then pass through a metal detector and their luggage x-rayed before entering the lobby. Inside uniformed police were present throughout the hotel’s public spaces. We saw this pattern repeated again and again at every hotel we stayed at in India. I must admit it was somewhat eerie to walk the hallways of this hotel knowing that people had been killed here just two years earlier.

While I worked in our local office, Garry spent the day exploring Mumbai using a locally hired driver. Unfortunately, the monsoon rain swept in shortly after breakfast and the poor lad was soaked every time he ventured from his vehicle. Umbrellas offer little protection during a true monsoon downpour as water bounces violently from every exposed surface. He visited the Haji Ali Mosque, located at the end of a ramshackle causeway stretching into the Indian Ocean, and toured the Prince of Wales Museum. After dinner and drinks with staff we drove back to our hotel via the city’s famous Gateway to India and the majestic Taj Hotel.

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